Pining for a real Christmas tree this year? There won't be as many for sale in Metro Vancouver

·3 min read

Chris Higgins and his family have traditionally gone out to find and cut their own Christmas tree. The annual ritual involves a drive from their East Vancouver home to Squamish to meet family friends, and children running through the bush in search of the best tree they can find.

"They make a couple of pulls on the saw," Higgins said of his two kids. "They don't do a substantial amount."

He works the saw blade most of the way through the trunk, and everybody helps for the final pulls.

"And then 'timber!' It falls over and then we pull it out and strap it on the car," said Higgins, who gets a permit each year to harvest a tree from under a powerline.

He said the family makes a whole day of it, with a thermos full of hot chocolate to warm up.

That's out of the question for most Metro Vancouver residents because the Chilliwack forest district — which includes everything from Horseshoe Bay all the way to Boston Bar — doesn't issue Christmas tree cutting permits. And health officials have told people to avoid non-essential travel outside their communities until at least Dec. 7.

"Our plan B now, if they renew the current restrictions, is that we'd go for a local tree lot in our neighbourhood," said Higgins.

But even the local tree lots will be affected by the pandemic.

Changes at the charity lots

Aunt Leah's Place, a charity that helps youth in government care and mothers with young children, has previously run five Christmas tree lots. This year that's down to three and customers may find service limited to curbside pickup at some locations.

"We're just making sure we're mindful of the health orders," said Sarah Stewart, executive director of Aunt Leah's Place. "The tree lot is a pretty big fundraiser for us to raise money for supportive housing programs."

Stewart said people can buy trees online for pickup, but all 163 deliveries spots were booked up several days before the lots even opened up.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Stewart said they may pivot to provide more delivery options, but on Tuesday they got the OK from the City of Vancouver to operate their Vancouver lot in a somewhat normal fashion. Customers will be allowed allowed to browse the trees and make their choice in person — with all the COVID-19 measures you would expect.

At the Vancouver South Lions Club lot, which has been running for 57 years, customers will find reduced hours and significantly fewer trees than other years at 41st Avenue and Fraser Street.

"It's not going to be easy for us to run it," said Namtez "Babbu" Sohal, secretary of the Vancouver South Lions Club. "Things could change tomorrow, who knows when the next regulations will come."

Fewer trees

Sohal said they usually bring in at least 2,200 trees, but this year that's down to 800 — he expects stock to sell out in a week rather than the normal three weeks.

Sohal said some people in the organization suggested skipping this year, even though it's the group's only fundraiser, but he said they're doing it "just to keep the spirit going on."

The tree lot will have fewer and wider aisles than normal, a maximum of six families at a time and a queue at the entrance. Sohal said they'll monitor for physical distancing, and hand sanitizer and masks will be available.

Unless travel restrictions are eased, Higgins said he'll miss the seasonal experience of cutting his own tree with his family and friends.

"We all have to make sacrifices," he said, adding that not cutting a tree is one of the easier sacrifices to make during the pandemic.

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